Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Diva Controversy: Binning the Playboy Bunny for Girls

What is wrong with a store selling Playboy merchandise? I’ve seen Playboy car seat covers in auto stores and lighters and keyrings in novelty stores for years. The world’s biggest adult entertainment/porn brand has well and truly emerged from magazine racks and sex shop DVD displays. Diva, a chain of Australian budget jewellery stores, took the prevalence of Playboy accessories to what they thought was its logical conclusion by stocking a range of Playboy jewellery, including the iconic “bunny”, a plastic bow-tie necklace, and pendants proclaiming the wearer to be “Miss February”.

What Diva failed to consider was their responsibility to their customer base, which includes a significant proportion of pre-teen and young teen girls. If we’re in any doubt that the chain markets its accessories to girls, consider the following points. The chain’s logo is a pink heart. They stock Twilight jewellery (including an “I Heart Vampires” rubber bracelet). They also sell replicas of celebrity engagement rings, such as the “Katy Perry” for $7.50. This is an affordable store, selling accessories that are appealing to, and within the budgetary reach, of girls aged from 9-13. The following photograph shows the Playboy range shelved immediately next to the “Young Divas” range of plastic colourful accessories for girls.

The range was heavily promoted by the store, including large “Diva for Playboy” banners displayed in store. A campaign led by Collective Shout mobilised hundreds of Facebook users to complain on the store’s official Facebook page. Sadly, many older girls expressed their upset at their discussion of accessories being interrupted by concerned parents, to the point where a number proclaimed their love for the Playboy merchandise and others abused concerned women as sexless, ugly hags. Diva was oddly silent as the war played out in social media, but were busy behind the scenes deleting comments with which they did not agree, especially those who posted a clever ad parody featuring a girl wearing rabbit ears with the caption “When I grow up I want to be a porn star”.

A petition with over 6,000 signatures calling on Diva to remove the Playboy line from its stores was variously rejected when presented in person to several outlets. Diva really did not want to publicly engage with parents who were labelling their store as an aid to paedophiles and facilitator of the sexualisation of children in the name of greed. Instead, it seems that the chain has silently conceded that despite their claims that Playboy was a ‘fashion’ brand with no connection to porn, that the thousands of parents and concerned adults pounding their Facebook page with comments could not be entirely ignored.

Remaining stock has been removed from display, and according to reports on the Collective Shout Facebook page, boxed up for return to head office. The Diva website has removed all but one item from the Playboy range: the diamante bunny head ring that is “a must for all Playmates”. If the range has been such a good seller, as has been variously claimed, then one would expect the stores to be ordering in more products and new stock, rather than returning them to headquarters. Clearly public pressure has made it untenable for the store to continue to sell the Playboy range.

The Diva controversy is an intriguing example of contemporary corporate attitudes to public opinion in which businesses invite comments, feedback and interactivity, but only wish to preserve a culture of compliments and remove any trace of criticism. It also shows the utter failure of such businesses to practice corporate responsibility when their livelihood depends on the spending of children. Perhaps McDonald’s could make a few extra bucks if they installed a bar adjoining the playground at each restaurant? Heaven knows most parents being nagged into eating there could do with a drink. But perhaps, despite their unhealthy options that are marketed to children, McDonald’s has to draw some kind of line because of their major appeal to
children and young adults.

In addition to these things, Diva’s attempts to justify Playboy jewellery as appropriate for marketing to a primary audience of girls under 16 is a further demonstration of the creep of pornified expectations of women to a younger and younger audience. Whether or not we believe these expectations are harmful to women, it is harder to make the case that a 12-year-old should have the freedom to publicly declare herself a “Playmate”. There was a report of one girl of this age purchasing a bunny necklace because she simply liked the look of the rabbit. While this girl was clearly not ready to know about the Playboy empire and what it means for women, the adult world around her would take very different meanings from her display of this symbol. (Thankfully, she never got the chance to find out what the reaction might have been when her parents saw what she had bought at the mall that day.)

The ideal Playmate focuses on making her appearance pleasing to men. She is readily sexually available and happy to not only put herself on display, but to meet any request that a male might have, including to share a man with a bevy of other attractive women. After all, this is the fantasy of the Playboy Mansion, in which the now elderly Hugh Hefner maintains an entourage of young women ready to meet his sexual needs (even if they must be in decline these days). The very thought that girls who are still forming their identities would feel these pressures is disturbing and shameful when peddled by retailers who rely on girls for their business.

That Diva could not even make a simple public admission that marketing Playboy merchandise alongside Winnie the Pooh jewellery was wrong is a sad sign that businesses are not concerned about the exploitation of girls, but merely their bottom lines. While this is seemingly one battle won, the overwhelming force of sexualised images impacting on girls is a much larger war with no sign of a truce in sight.


ladies clothing online Australia said...

The Playboy Bunny is one of the most known symbols nowadays and even our kids can recognize them. It is just hard to filter their fashion products and accessories out of our children's eyes.

angelique said...

Those accessories would surely make a good addition to my t-shirt printing skill. You can sew some of them and embed it into the t-shirt.